I’m pretty sure I learned everything I know about Englishmen while reading Pride and Prejudice in grade ten (and by "reading" I mean watching the BBC classic that lead every teenage girl in my class to have a massive crush on Mr Darcy).
I rounded out my education with a crazy cacophony of clichés. Bert from Mary Poppins taught me the best Englishmen men float when they laugh – and have terrible Cockney accents. Bridget Jones Diary showed how silly English men look fighting to especially when set against the backdrop of the classic pop tune It’s Raining Men. I learned what Englishmen consider funny from episodes of Monty Python (my favourite is the Ministry of Silly Walks). My edification would be incomplete without flipping through copies of Hello magazine at the grocery store checkout for juicy stories of Prince Harry and David Beckham.
With this as my baseline definition of Englishmen, what could go wrong? Perhaps I unwittingly expected my new flatmates to possess stereotypic quick wit, self-deprecating humour and posh accents while adorned in dinner jackets and wrapped in cloak of cigar smoke like the mythical English gentlemen that the media feeds us. However, the gentlemen of Upper Tollington Park Road are so much more.
After a few weeks in town, I started to better understand the nuances of each of my flatmates.... loosely casting famous actors that might play them in the story of my life and Colin Firth didn’t fit the bill for any of them. It was over our first flatmate dinner that my diet of Hollywood stereotypes truly started to crash.
As flatmates, most of our connection happens in our tiny kitchen. The dinner table acts as a unifier, a place of community. Sharing a meal is an excuse to catch up and talk, one of the few times where we happily to put down our phones and look up from the ever-present copy of the Economist that resides on our table.
Flatmate dinner was the first time that all four of us actually made a meal together and sat down collectively to eat and discuss ‘house business.’ Over a Thai green curry, we also debated the complexities of life and shortly after the dishes we done, Adam suggested we head upstairs for a chant. (*Jaw drops*). I’m from British Columbia and have spent considerable time in the havens of hippy-dippy so chanting isn’t foreign to me but Never in a million years would I have expected that in a household of Englishmen, I’d be the one surprised by a spontaneous chanting session.
Honestly speaking, I have been a timid chanting contributor in the past... shyly pretending that I was way cooler about it than I actually am, trying to hold up the liberal British Columbia reputation. For example, early on in my yoga practice, I often opted out of chanting Om with the class. Skipping it made perfect sense: My weak vocal chords made it sound like a pathetic, whimpering whine. I could never get the timing right or take in enough breath. But more importantly, I simply didn’t feel it.
Bean bag chairs, evidence of a paint splatter on the walls from the last house party and drum perched in our living room window should have tipped me off that this was a distinct possibility had I stopped to reflect. In a dimly lit room complete with candles, smoking sage and accompanied by the hum of shruti box, we sat cross-legged on the floor, chanting. The beautiful resonance of their deep voices held space for mine. The gentle drumbeat mimicked a fluttering heartbeat. The sequence of musical notes, regardless of temporary discord, finds ultimate balance and harmony. This ebb and flow of our harmony mirroring the ways our lives were weaving together as a new household... including temporary moments of dissonance.
This experience opened me to new ways of being English, and of being men. Since then, I’ve uncovered subtle ways they are bucking stereotypes, living complexly and thoughtfully choosing how they want to walk in this world. One roommate wears turquoise eyeliner periodically, when he’s not sporting a shirt and dress pants. One has taken a prolonged sabbatical cycling around Asia and moonlights as a project manager at a Fortune 500 company. One has done several family constellation workshops. One eats frozen peas covered in ketchup while drafting his team for his fantasy (American) football league. One can be found popping and locking in a hip hop dance class. And they all talk about their feelings, openly. Mic drop.
Does such a thing as an 'Englishmen' really exist? Probably not... at least not in a single universal way. There are so many ways to be English, and to be men... and my fabulous flatmates are showing the splendour of that diversity.
Nice to meet you...
I'm Andi (hence the blog name). I'm a travel aficionado, passionate eater, tireless explorer of internet rabbit-holes, and amateur thinker. Join me as I give it all up (ok, that's a bit of an exaggeration) and go around the world on a mid-career "soul sabbatical" & year-of-learning to figure out what to be NEXT when I grow up. Won’t you grab a cup of chai and stay a while?
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